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A Series of Unfortunate Events Season One – A Review Not for the Fainthearted

If you are interested in reviews about happy shows now streaming online, you would be better off reading some other review. Close this tab, click on an alternative link– preferably one featuring pictures of either kittens or puppies –  and look away, as this review discusses no happy ending, no happy beginning, only A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’m Greggory Dimmock, and it is my solemn duty to report that Netflix’s new show is delightfully disturbing and endlessly entertaining.

The story of how the Baudelaire children’s tragic tale first found its way from book to screen, begins in 2004. Starring Jim Carrey as the villainous Count Olaf, the film adaptation was a figurative success – figurative, here, meaning opposed to a literal success: the film was relatively well received and soon grew into a cult classic; it felt as though it was successful. Despite this, the film was literally unsuccessful: Paramount and Nickelodeon failed to make enough money and consequently plans for a sequel were soon put on hold.

As I will again advise, perhaps another, more Tab-like article will be better suited to ensure your demeaner remains happy. I have heard that you can find out which reality television character your university is. Does that not sound more appealing than all this woe?

If you are still here and reading, despite initial despair, hope for a sequel never dwindled. And a staggering 13 years later, followers of the Baudelaires’ misfortunes seem to have been rewarded with something even better: a brand new eight episode Netflix season, covering Snicket’s first four novellas. In which we witness the diabolical attempts made by Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) as he burns, poisons and pushes his way through numerous guardians to steal Violet, Klaus and Sunny’s enormous fortune.

It is now important for you to know that this gothic-tinged Wes Anderson-like romp is executed to near-perfection. The scope and speed of the series is a real testament to the creative minds behind the project. We feel immersed in this somewhat current somewhat retro concoction. Like the setting, the cinematography is also in a state of flux; switching between dirt-ridden gloom to the more fanciful animation and use of green screen. Although, this is at times jarring, it captures and symbolises a world in which adults are continually dim-witted, joyful moments only exist as in the abstract, and dismay lurks around every corner.

Great performances also permeate every inch of this series, with the young unknown actors who play the Baudelaire orphans holding their own amongst more experienced individuals like Will Arnett, Cobie Smulders and Joan Cusack to name a few. Yet, there are three considerable factors which soon become the reasons – despite your evident schadenfreude – behind why you allow the countdown to the next episode to continually hit zero.

The first of these being of no surprise: Neil Patrick Harris is unstoppable – both literally and figuratively – as Count Olaf. Famous for his roles in the sitcoms such as How I Met Your Mother and countless Broadway musicals, everyone was expecting Harris to knock this part out of the park – a phrase thats meaning originates from America’s favourite pastime, baseball. In this sport, if a batter hits the ball out of the park, they have hit a home run and their team scores a run or a succession of runs depending on how many players they have at base. This is a noteworthy accomplishment, and therefore hitting said thing out of the park is used to describe a moment when someone has done something exceptional – and the ac-tor (as Olaf pronounces it) uses all his theatrical training to live up to these high expectations. Olaf is simultaneously a hilarious and menacing presence, and although Carrey was capable of eccentricity at the drop of the hat it was rather difficult to find him truly intimidating. Harris, on the other hand, highlights both sides of Olaf’s appeal. He is deliciously murderous but, when draped in the most ludicrous of disguises, he still maintains the smug buffoonery of a man who is shocked that his moronic plan is actually working.

Alongside Count Olaf is Patrick Warburton’s portrayal of tormented author Lemony Snicket. The actor, who channels the suave of a noir spy, acts as a tuning fork, setting the tone straight from the first episode and providing us with wonderfully in-depth deadpan narration that enforces the Baudelaire’s dire situation. His recurring interjections throughout the series soon take on a life of their own, as the plot begins to unravel and Snicket’s relevance in Olaf’s antics and the poor orphan’s lives becomes more evident. You anticipate his thesaurus-like knowledge, and every time he is on screen it is a pleasure to watch.

However, what makes A Series of Unfortunate Events a true success is exactly what made the books a delight to read; that same voice behind every word we hear on screen is the exact same genius behind every word within the books. No, not Lemony Snicket, but rather Dan Handler. (Shock horror). Yes, unfortunately for those of you still clinging to a false reality, Snicket is just a pen name used by Handler through which he releases his tales of misfortune upon his oblivious audience. The American author is on board both as executive producer and screenwriter for all eight episodes. His dialogue is awash with Wildeian wit, meta-humour and sombre reflection, continually polishing this show, making it gleam with astonishing uniqueness.

The first six episodes, like the books, are somewhat formulaic. But through tremendous inventiveness and the peppering of interesting insights into the wider conspiracy, Handler and co ensure that we are consistently entertained and surprised. My only peeve – a word that means a cause of irritation – is that season two is not already in my Netflix queue.

It is with this that I conclude my account of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Do not look away, and watch at your own peril.

With all due respect,

Greggory Dimmock.

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